So I was having an online discussion with my younger brother a little more than a week ago about abortion. Being a devout and pro-life Catholic he held the opinion that life starts at conception, that it a fertilized egg is human and should be treated as human because it is a unique life different than the host parent. I have also been reading bio-ethics and many different places on the debate and they all seem to revolve around trying to justify scientifically what I can best describe as trying to answer the question, "when is an embryo tantamount to a human being?" 

     Of course, that one question gave way to the larger question, "What makes us human?" Where do we define the limits of humanity? Is it strictly in a biological sense as in form, shape, and structure? Is it in potential in the case of infants? Is it in behavior; could someone act in a way that they are no longer considered, if even for a moment, a human? Is it in ability whether physical or mental? Is humanity a transitive property; in other words, is it a label that can be taken away or does it last regardless once it has been gained? Are their varying degrees of humanity where a person could be considered "more human" than someone else?

I am very curious to hear all of your thoughts and ideas!

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Strictly speaking, from the philosophical standpoint, the zygote isn't a human. Make a distinction between "human" and "person." One of our big endeavors involves organization and classification - a highly imaginative and creative pursuit.

We don't abort zygotes as a rule.

Allow me to get on my soap box.

A fertilized human egg will only become human, it will not become a dog or a toad just a human so in that sense it is a human in sperm form and egg form.

But then one must apply viability to the equation, at what point does the human embryo become a viable human being?

What is up with the first part of your statement?

Once upon a time, people didn’t know they were dirty. A tight knit group invented soap. Sometime afterwards, soap was sold as a way to get clean.  The soap was packaged in sturdy, wooden boxes. Some people started using these sturdy wooden boxes as platforms in the street. They could stand above those who didn’t have one and yell at them.  Soon, too many people wanted a turn yelling at the others.  This evolved into asking for permission. It’s out dated, but still kind of cool.

There's the truth of it. I hate to even make this comment because it might diminish what you just said, but I've got to show some support.

"'What makes us human?' Where do we define the limits of humanity?"

I'd like to draw attention to the tacit use of the words "us" and "we."

you may not have realized but in the OP you imply that infants only have the potential to be human. You start by asking a question about when do we become human in terms of gestational development. The question then turns into one about what seperates us from other animals. The questions are similar,but very different. In the later I might argue that our 'humanity' (or also our inhumanity) are just biproducts of our DNA/biology which is the fundamental thing that separates us from other animals. When pwe look at animals we don't see the traits then discern what species they might be, (friendly animal is possibly a dog) Instead we see the dog and know that it is likely to be friendly.
No matter how inhuman a person may behave they can not be stripped of the biology that makes them a human. Of course if we could delve into a more science fiction type question, such as wI'll we eventually evolve into something beyond our current form.

The question of whether a a developing human is "human" is based on the assumption that there is a definition for what constitutes being "human". Is the definition strictly objective and related to science like in an argument for DNA or is there an additional component related to culture in that a human who acts completely different from a social norm wouldn't be considered human? In a sense, the Nazis did this with Jews. Could it be that, regardless of biology, we could consider an artificial intelligence as being "human?" In such a case, it would preclude a completely subjective definition and follow the old adage, "if it looks like a duck, quacks like a duck, and floats like a duck, then it's probably a duck." It wouldn't matter in that case if it was strictly a mechanical and artificial being with a mind of incredibly complex software. That's what I'm trying to get to: is there a definition that can account for all these exceptions and explain why we consider a "human" a "human" or is there something akin to a revolving door of definitions to make up for exceptions? Maybe there is something more like a list of attributes that don't determine what is human, but what is not human.

"When we look at animals we don't see the traits then discern what species they might be, (friendly animal is possibly a dog) Instead we see the dog and know that it is likely to be friendly."

I'd say we do see the physical traits of a dog and recognize it as such, but there are some creatures that blur those lines. For instance, newts to an untrained eye look a great deal like lizards, but they aren't. A scarlet kingsnake, a constrictor, has coloration that to someone who doesn't know better looks like a coral snake, which is incredibly venomous. It doesn't matter that it's biology is fundamentally different; it can still be taken for the other. It is when it's behavior is observed or it is closely examined in a physical aspect that we can better define it as a newt instead of a lizard or a kingsnake instead of a coral snake.

Just read this on Slate and knew right away that it needed to be posted to this thread

We can't really answer "What makes us human" without being clear on "What do you mean by 'human'?"

And of course, there are many answers to that question. All of them but one are subjective. The one non-subjective one is based on DNA.

Unfortunately, the one non-subjective answer is also the least enlightening. It is also the least pertinent to the original question at issue, namely the discussion of personhood, fetal rights, and abortion. This discussion is informed by biology, but it is decided by society: an amalgamation of culture, logic, law, and so on.


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